‘How did I get myself in this situation?’: Human trafficking survivor hopes her story will save others
It’s hard to imagine Kaitlin as anything different than a bubbly, smiling 29-year-old who spends her days at a youth community centre.
But just five years ago, her life was very different. Kaitlin, whose last name Global News agreed not to publish to protect her identity, was being sold for sex.
“The movie Taken …you know, right? I thought that is what human trafficking looked like,” Kaitlin said.
“But nothing could be further from reality. It was someone close to me … someone I thought loved me … It was my boyfriend,” she said of her alleged trafficker.
At 24, Kaitlin said she began dating a man who forced her to have sex with multiple men for money in different hotels daily.
“He ended up trafficking me to Calgary,” she told Global News.
“I was forced to do a lot of things I didn’t want to do. But I did it, because I felt I owed this person … like the life I had with him was better than the one I had been living.”
Kaitlin had been abusing drugs and alcohol since the age of 12. Two years later, at just 14, she said she lost her virginity to rape. From there, she started selling her body working in the sex trade.
“You are full of shame and self-blame … it’s embarrassing,” she said when talking about being forced to have sex for money.
“I just thought … how did I get myself in this situation?”
“They identify a void,” said Toronto police Det. David Correa. “Whether it’s a drug addiction, low self-esteem, a history of abuse. [A trafficker] will prey on those factors.”
Correa has seen it hundreds of times in Toronto. “Your postal code won’t save you … it doesn’t shield you from the horrors of this type of exploitation.”
Since 2014, Toronto police have made 280 arrests in relation to human trafficking but just 40 of those have resulted in convictions, with some cases still before the courts. Correa admits the process can be gruelling.
“It could be three years before (a case) goes through the system and it can be really hard on our victims,” Correa said.
The accused in Kaitlin’s case was acquitted but she says she doesn’t regret going through the process and wanted other victims to know what she went through.
“You can get through this and there is hope … there is light,” she said.
Coming up on three years sober, she now spends her days at East Metro Youth Services as a peer support worker, helping others who have survived trafficking.
“I can guarantee that every hotel along the 401, 400, Highway 11, any of those major highways … has at least one person inside, being trafficked or working in the sex trades,” she said.
Kaitlin hopes the numbers will change and that her journey will inspire others who are suffering in silence to come forward.
NOTE: On May 9, two youth community groups, East Metro Youth and the Loft are holding a mixed media art show at Super Wonder Gallery on College Street. The exhibition will highlight these young people’s often-untold stories of trauma, mental health, substance abuse and recovery.
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